Brett Preston is the sort of person who will giggle after saying the words “cabernet sauvignon.”
“Good pronunciation,” he laughs, a good-natured jab at his elocutive mastery of the wine grape varietal’s decisively Gallic name.
He is also the sort of person who will sell bottle after bottle of the tannic elixir without pocketing any of the profits for himself. In July 2012 Preston and a team of dedicated volunteers launched The Little Grape That Could, a wine label whose profits are donated entirely to charity. The Toronto-based company bears the distinction of being the first nonprofit wine label in existence, with its two Argentina-produced varieties—a Torrontés and the giggle-inducing Cabernet Sauvignon—now carried in 120 LCBO stores across Ontario.
The idea came to Preston, the director of a market consulting firm, in 2010. “I was approached by a charity to come up with an idea to help raise money. I brainstormed with a few friends, and we came up with this concept.”
While the original charity that approached Preston would soon cease operations (“Unfortunately they were unable to secure enough funding to stay alive,” says Jessica Duarte, one of the core volunteers of The Little Grape That Could team), the idea would have legs. Preston decided to broaden the fundraising application so that it could benefit a number of charities—basically, any charity that wanted the boost. This strategy would help market the product (more mouths being a necessary boon to word-of-mouth promotion), and more organizations would benefit.
The model is straightforward: a consumer who buys the wine is encouraged to input a code printed on the back of each bottle onto the charity page of the company’s website. Preston and his volunteers—sourced through his personal networks and strategic cold-calls—make no money from the endeavour. While nearly two-thirds of the wine’s gross revenue goes toward covering costs, 100 per cent of profits are donated to charity. This amounts to one charity dollar for each bottle of $11.95 wine.
Currently Little Grape offers a handful of charities to choose from, including Second Harvest, the Heart and Stroke Foundation and Toronto Cat Rescue. But another twist is that wine buyers are also able to donate their bottles’ proceeds to charities not registered with The Little Grape That Could by sending in a receipt of their purchase.
“Ideally, we would like the charities to register with us officially,” says Duarte. “But sometimes people don’t know how to do this.”
 In case consumers don’t get around to choosing a charity for the proceeds of their wine purchases, unallocated funds are redirected to the charities registered on the wine website’s drop-down menu in proportion to their popularity. “Even if you buy the wine and you don’t donate the money, the money still goes to charity,” says Preston. So charities more aggressive in promoting their ties to the wine can benefit from being popular beneficiaries.

For an additional feel-good touch, the back of each bottle is a “toast” to a person (or, in the case of Charlie the pug, pet) nominated by a wine drinker on The Little Grape That Could website. Every toast—a paragraph of tribute that explains why that person should be celebrated—gets 500 bottles. The idea was ignited by Preston’s father, who was an early collaborator on the project and who passed away before the product’s launch.
“For me it was something positive that I could focus on, and something that I could honour him with,” says Preston. “Instead of just honouring my dad, we thought we could open it up to other people, too.”
Then there’s the wine itself. The process of tasting and selecting the two varietals, one white and one red, took Preston the better part of a year. A number of wine experts including wine critics Konrad Ejbich and Tony Aspler and Trump International Hotel and Tower sommelier Zoltan Szabo volunteered their time to assist. So far, the wine has received a flurry of positive reviews.
The LCBO has been supportive of the experiment. “There’s nothing like it, so it’s really exciting [to the staff],” says Duarte. She thinks there is potential for future organizations to adopt a similar fundraising model now that a precedent has been set.
While the model could be applied to many products and charities, the volunteer-run organization has limited resources which limit its ability to grow. And they’re competing against huge international corporations.
“They’re huge organizations, wine companies,” says Preston. “We’re not that. But we’re relying on what we have.”
And what they have seems to be working. Preston thinks The Little Grape That Could even has science on its side in its mix of epicurean pleasure and charitable feelings.
“The act of giving fires your neurotransmitters and increases your serotonin levels,” Preston says. “When your mood changes, the way you taste things changes. When you have lower serotonin levels, you don’t taste sweetness as vividly.” Ever the well-meaning Type A, he even contacted the Bristol University researcher behind these findings to verify them. He’s proud of his conclusion: “By giving to charity, you will fire your pleasure centres, which will change you before you even taste the wine. So you should be able to taste the goodness.”